Creating Panoramas

Paradise Bay, Antarctica - Majestic Icy Wonderland

If you’re like most people, you’ve already discovered the Panorama mode or function on your camera. You’ve probably tried it a few times, didn’t really know what to expect and gave up. While not all cameras have a distinct single-shot panoramic setting, you can still create your own panoramas following some very simple steps.

Here are a few pointers to help you create panoramas in a few easy steps:

How To Shoot The Pictures

First, you don’t need to use a special camera, a tripod or any expensive equipment. Basically, all you need to do is hold your camera as still as possible and try to keep it at the same level. Take one shot and then turn to take the next shot, making sure that it overlaps the previous one by at least 30%. Continue until you reach your end point.

Move the camera as if it was mounted on a tripod, so hold it in place and instead rotate around the imaginary tripod. If you want to create a full 360 degree panorama, make a full circle and overlap your last picture with the first one.

Although I said that you don’t need any other equipment, your panoramas will look so much better using a few simple tools and suggestions:

Tripod

The tripod ensures that your camera rotates around a fixed axis and that it stays level while you are shooting. It also enables you to take longer exposures, so you can create a cool night cityscape with everything in focus.

Panoramic Head

A panoramic head helps you to precisely arrange your camera so that when you turn it for the next shot you are rotating it around a fixed point. This little tool also makes your shootings easier and prevents you from wasting a lot of time trying to stitch the images together afterwards.

Wide Angle Lens

By shooting several pictures you can combine them to create a 360 degree panoramic image, no matter what lens you use. A wide angle lens allows you to:

  • Take less pictures than with a prime lens
  • Capture shots on vertical rows so the picture doesn’t look like a tight slit

Use A Large Depth Of Field

Usually, panoramas are all about capturing the beauty of a landscape and not taking snapshots of people or events. So, you will probably want to get sharp images that capture the entire landscape over the horizon.

To get such crisp shots, you need to set a large aperture (say up to f/20) so that everything remains in focus. Setting the camera to AV (Auto Exposure) mode will also help you control the depth of field.

Shoot During The Golden Hours

Also known as magic hour in cinematography, the golden hours provide the best lighting conditions. These are early morning and late afternoon hours, when the light is soft and gives the landscape a warm look.

How To Create Spherical Panoramas

If you are just staring out with to panoramic photography, there is no need to buy any special lens until you have experimented with a few panoramas. This will give you a good idea of whether you want or need any other equipment, such as a wide angle lens.

To create spherical panoramas, use the 8mm fish-eye lens, which is usually the widest lens available, to create an 180-degree perspective in all directions.

You need to:

  • Attach a fisheye lens to your camera to capture at least 180-degree vertical views of the horizon
  • Take multiple rows of shots (add some ‘up’ and ‘down’ shots) to increase the depth of field

Later, you can also convert the spherical images into rectilinear panoramas and stitch them together.

How To Stitch The Images Together

Now that you’ve taken the shots, it’s time to move on to the next part: Stitching. If you are just starting out with panoramas, I assume you don’t have any stitching software, so I suggest you use CleVR, a free panoramic photo stitching and sharing service.

Basically, stitching is the process of combining multiple shots into a single, perfect image and CleVR allows you to stitch your panoramas, upload and share them online. You can download the software here: http://www.clevr.com/

To use the stitcher, you’ll need to go to their site and set up a free CleVR account. Once you’ve logged into your account, you’ll be prompted to install the software on your computer.

You’ll also need to download and install Adobe Air, as the stitcher is an Adobe Air application. Once you have installed it, you can start using the stitcher in 3 simple steps:

1. Select your images.

Drag your photos to the empty box or click ‘Choose Images’. You can add as many shots as you want, there is no limit whatsoever.

2. Arrange the images in the right order.

Once you’ve added the images, you can rotate them or reverse their order.

3. Click the ‘Stitch’ button.

Next, click ‘Stitch’ to begin processing the photos and you will finally create your panorama. Two more steps: save your panorama as a JPEG format on your computer and then upload it to the CleVR site to distribute it online.

You can also use the build-in image enhancer on their site to slightly adjust the image in case it’s under or over exposed.

More Stitching Tools:

Although I highly recommend using CleVR, especially if you’re just starting out with panoramas, here is a list of other photo stitching programs you may want to play with:

Hugin is a free and open source photo stitching program with a twist. The difference between Hugin and CleVR is that Hugin does not require the shots to be taken side-by-side. Their tool will combine a grid of images instead of arranging them all in a line.

As you can see, there is a slight learning curve with panoramas, but following these simple techniques you’ll soon produce some amazing results.

P.S. Here I show how to showcase your panoramas online.